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News: Tampa Looks at Protecting Historic Cigar Factories

14 Jan 2019

Tampa, which calls itself “Cigar City” for its long-ago role as the hub of the industry in the U.S., may again consider officially protecting the historic factories that remain.

Designating the old facilities as historic landmarks, which restricts some changes, was rejected a few years ago. Many of the two-dozen or so remaining buildings still dot Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, which is also home to numerous cigar shops, small rolling operations, and a giant annual cigar festival.

The only full-fledged factory still operating is J.C. Newman’s (pictured above). Others sit empty or have been converted to different uses. Some already have the historic designation.

New interest in the factories was spurred recently when the city said it had ordered a halt to remodeling work on the Santaella Cigar Factory building because of permit issues. One city councilman told the Tampa Bay Times that it was important to protect the old factories: “They are the castles of our neighborhood.”

According to the Times, Tampa council members considered the historic landmark designation in 2006 but were dissuaded by owners who viewed it as a potential restriction of their property rights.

The Santaella is a three-story building constructed in 1904, one of more than 200 cigar factories that operated at one time in Ybor City. Babe Ruth was said to stop by Santaella for cigars when the Yankees held spring training in the area.

In recent years, the building has been home to local artists. It was sold last year, and the permit flap flared as the new owner was renovating.

We’ve written about Tampa’s cigar history in the past, including a 2015 piece that included a reference to a terrific resource, Tom Ufer’s seminal guide to the factories in Ybor City. If you don’t find live links at Tom’s site, be sure to check back; he recently told me he’s working to restore much of the great information he compiled.

George E

photo credit: J.C. Newman

Quick Smoke: Cornelius & Anthony Cornelius Toro

11 Jan 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

I’ve smoked quite a few Cornelius Toros since I first reviewed it in 2016. It’s a remarkably consistent cigar, from the looks of its light-brown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper to the opening puffs of sweetness that are followed by some spice and nuts. The Cornelius burns slowly and smokes smoothly. I thoroughly enjoyed the latest one, and I think most smokers will, too.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Cornelius & Anthony

Quick Smoke: Alec Bradley Magic Toast Toro

28 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

With its very dark Honduran wrapper, Magic Toast stands out on the cigar shop shelf. And it should. This medium-strength, three-vitola line, introduced at the 2018 IPCPR Trade Show, is a stand-out cigar. The floral start is almost Cuban, with other flavors such as coffee, cedar, and tobacco sweetness coming and going after about an inch. Magic Toast is a smooth, well-balanced cigar featuring a double-binder of Nicaraguan and Honduran tobaccos, and filler from the same two nations. The Toro (6 x 52) is about $9. I recommend picking one up.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Alec Bradley

StogieGuys.com’s Top Cigars of 2018

19 Dec 2018

Compiling the annual StogieGuys.com cigar retrospective is always interesting. How many smokes did we find outstanding? How does this year compare to the past? Was there any dominant brand or startling newcomer?

Only a handful of cigars achieve the top five-stogie rating. In more than 12 years of reviewing, only 59 have made it, an average of just under five a year. (You can find the full list of five stogie-rated smokes here and an explanation of our ratings system here.)

In 2018, only a single cigar scored five stogies out of five: the 7.5-inch, 40-ring gauge Illusione Holy Lance (hl). It was hailed in the review as “a balanced symphony of complex, authentically Nicaraguan flavors.”

Illusione cigars have long been highly enjoyed at StogieGuys.com. Dion Giolito’s brand has two other five stogie-rated smokes, as well as others with an outstanding four and a half stogie-rating, including one this year.

The review also called it “one of the finest lanceros in production today, and these aged cigars showed that they lose nothing after a few years, and might have gained some added complexity.”

For comparison, we had four five-stogie cigars in both 2017 and 2016, six each in 2015 and 2014, and two in 2013.

Considerably more cigars were rated four or four and a half stogies, numbers not dissimilar to those of 2017. I tallied 22 four-stogie smokes (the same as last year), and 13 four-and-a-half-stogie smokes (down three from 2017). They run the gamut from small company productions and limited editions to a couple Cubans to releases from cigar giants.

Below is an alphabetical listing of the four-and-a-half-stogie cigars from 2018 with a quote from each review.

Caldwell Savages Corona Extra: “Once an even light is established, the draw opens almost instantly. What follows is a bready, medium-bodied profile of white pepper, cocoa powder, oak, and soft cayenne heat.”

El Triunfador (Original Blend): “Complexity is the name of the game. There’s a lot going on here.”

Fable Fourth Prime Sapta: “It tastes of nougat, cream, dark chocolate, and coffee bean. There is little spice or heat.”

Fratello Navetta Atlantis: “The individual flavors remind me of espresso, roasted nuts, black pepper, and cayenne heat.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Hermoso No. 4 Añejados (Cuban): “Ultimately, you pay a premium for an assurance of a cigar that isn’t under-aged, but the balanced, rich flavors… still earn it a very solid rating.”

Illusione La Gran Classe Rex: “It’s a balanced cigar that provides surprising nuance in such a small vitola.”

Intemperance BA XXI Vanity: “While Vanity is an awesome cigar for any time of year, I especially appreciate it during the cold months here in Chicago.”

Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Gran Reserva Presidente (TAA Exclusive): “It is full-bodied, yet smooth, creamy, and nicely balanced.”

La Gloria Cubana Colección Reserva Robusto: “In addition to enjoyable flavors and solid construction, the price ($7.59) makes this an impressive offering. “

MBombay Classic Torpedo: “… creamy with cedar notes, but the Torpedo also evokes some citrus and other fruity sweetness for added complexity.”

Quai d’Orsay Secreto Cubano Exclusivo Francia RE (2016): “I’ll admit this cigar surprised me, in a good way. Despite its small size, it provided nearly an hour of enjoyable, interesting, complex flavors.”

Sobremesa Robusto Largo: “As the Robusto Largo progresses, flavors like dark cherry, green raisin, cedar, molasses, and caramel come and go.”

Villiger La Vendedora Toro: “… the most impressive, complex, encompassing smoke Villiger has produced to date”

We look forward with great anticipation to the wonderful smokes 2019 is sure to bring.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Crowned Heads Headley Grange Drumstick

16 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

When Crowned Heads released the original limited edition Drumstick lancero (7.5 x 38) in 2013, it quickly became a highly sought-after, much-praised cigar. The re-release last year didn’t seem to garner the same response, despite reportedly being the same as the original with only a smaller production level and the addition of a black foot ribbon. It’s a medium-strength smoke with a smooth Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. There’s pepper, though it’s not overwhelming, and some sweetness mixed with nuts and floral notes. All in all, a fine cigar for about $10.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: JFR Lunatic Habano Short Titan

7 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Just a few puffs into this cigar, I almost put it down. That’s a step I rarely take, but the Lunatic was so rough and harsh it was hard to imagine working my way farther down its fat frame. Fortunately, I didn’t give up. And the cigar, one of a budget line introduced several years ago by Aganorsa, did improve. Slightly. Also on the positive side, it performed well, though as is typical of big ring gauge cigars, several lighter touch-ups were necessary. Overall, though, I found the Lunatic to be an unsatisfying cigar with little to recommend it.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Roll Out Your Lists

5 Dec 2018

To death and taxes as the certainties of life, I think it’s time to add the best-of list. And since we’re cigar smokers, it’s lists of those for which we’re getting ready as year’s end nears.

There are certainly enough lists to keep us busy. Magazines, blogs, podcasts, shops—seemingly almost everyone who lit a cigar compiles a list.

(We don’t do a best-of list at StogieGuys.com. We do look back over our year’s reviews and highlight the cigars we rated highly. Our annual retrospective will appear later this month.)

The 800-lb. gorilla of the tally trade is, of course, Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25. Landing at the number one spot immediately catapults a cigar to stardom, creates shortages, and can leave a long-term impact on the brand owner.

Inaugurated in 2004, Cigar Aficionado’s list was once a singular event when the print edition rolled off the presses. Now, it is a weeks-long reveal with online fanfare. Others, such as Cigar Journal, also go the online rollout route.

About as common as the lists themselves are complaints. This one doesn’t do this, that one does that, why don’t they consider this, why would they consider that. And on and on and on.

Let’s be honest. No one is going to put together a list of nearly anything without some disagreement. But for kvetchers, Cigar Aficionado certainly seems to be the top target.

A couple of the primary complaints are that they don’t limit the selection to the year’s new releases and that the judges lean too heavily in favor of stronger cigars. Then there is the allegation that they’re influenced in their reviews by advertising, a charge that, to my knowledge, has never been supported by any evidence.

Cigar Aficionado has become more open about its process. The magazine has been more transparent about the ranking procedures, even having executive editor David Savona appear on podcasts to talk about it.

Personally, I have no significant complaints about any of the lists. I look forward to them. I’m always curious to see what other smokers think. Best-of lists also introduce me to cigars with which I’m unfamiliar and frequently prompt me to try some I haven’t had.

How about you? Do you pay attention to the lists? Any lists you particularly value and seek out?

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys